Valley Healthcare System says impact of COVID-19 on mental health is immense and will continue after outbreak


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The chief operating officer of Valley Healthcare Systems, a behavioral healthcare provider, said the COVID-19 outbreak will have a far-reaching negative impact on those with substance abuse and behavioral health disorders.

Gerry Schmidt, the COO, said the outbreak is more devastating than 9/11 because it was a single event with a predictable end and didn’t have the global impact, unlike the novel coronavirus. He said they are reinventing themselves because their clients are being directly impacted and they are continuing to assist them in an effort to guide them through these unusual times.

But they are not only focusing on old clients, Schmidt said.

Gerry Schmidt
Valley Healthcare COO

“You also have the addition of a lot of people that maybe were never anxious or in the position where they were suddenly unemployed or having to spend a lot of time at home, in situations they have never been in before,” Schmidt said. “It increases anxiety and some people that gets expressed through depression in other people it leads to perhaps things they were never involved in before, behavior such as drinking a little bit more than they normally do. We’re seeing an increase in domestic violence because you’re seeing people that are forced into situations, perhaps closed quarters, they haven’t been in before and there’s really no movement away from that.”

The real impact of the mental strain the outbreak has put on people will not be felt now, but rather in the long term, Schmidt said. Three to six months down the road people will start experiencing maladies like post-traumatic stress disorder and become hypersensitive the next time something as normal as the flu season rolls around, according to Schmidt.

People deal with stressful situations in different ways, so they are preparing to deal with whatever is in front of them now and whatever confronts them down the road, Schmidt said.

Right now, Schmidt said, they are open for business and are still offering a 24/7 crisis service. However, he added that while they’re mostly assisting their clients through indirect means like telehealth, they are still bringing some in who require things like shots and or lab work.

“Before they can enter the building they’re screened, we take their temperature, we ask them the normal questions that are being asked nationally in terms of chest pain, trouble breathing, of course, we’re taking their temperature, asking them if they have a cough and things like that,” Schmidt said. “We’re doing that with everyone, every employee, every day, which has made a huge difference in terms, and then we’re social distancing within our offices with the essential staff that are here.”

Even when people have to come in, Schmidt said, they are usually put in one room and the counselor in another and they communicate through electronic devices. These new strategies are efficient and their clients have been cooperative, however, Schmidt said nothing beats good old fashioned hands-on, face-to-face therapy.

Regardless, Schmidt said their services will continue to be available to those who need them until they can return to their preferred means of operating.

It is important that people remember that they are not in this battle with COVID-19 induced stress alone. Schmidt said the unity is the most reassuring aspect of this outbreak to him.

“I think probably, for me, the biggest part of hope is that what I’ve seen is as a nation, really in terms of West Virginia, I’ve really seen us come together as a people, kind of united behind this and my hope is that doesn’t go away,” Schmidt said. “For me that is a real positive outcome to a very very bad situation — is that we’ve shown our mettle, how strong we are and that as a state and as a country that we’re able to overcome some pretty awful situations.”

If you or anyone you know is need of Valley’s services you can contact them by calling 800-232-0020.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

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